As I landed in Sint Maarten and flew over the pristine beaches of the Caribbean island where many tourists are enjoying the crystal clear water, I see signs of economic recovery and reconstruction. Tourism has picked up and Sint Maarten is being hailed as a top holiday destination again. The devastation from Hurricane Irma caused gross domestic product (GDP) to fall by about 13 percent in 2017 – 2018, but now there are reasons for optimism. Life on the island is recovering.
As reconstruction investments gather momentum, GDP is expected to expand by 2 percent in 2019. Faster growth means the people of Sint Maarten, including many who lost their livelihood after the storm, will see new job opportunities.
Just a year ago, the government of the Netherlands asked the World Bank to help the Caribbean island of Sint Maarten rebuild after the storm and establish the US$550 million Sint Maarten Recovery and Reconstruction Trust Fund. Now is a good time to take stock of what has been achieved.
The first wave of emergency repairs is well underway with four projects amounting to US$128 million under implementation on disaster response, income support, training for the unemployed and underemployed, hospital resiliency, and debris removal. An additional US$170 million is on a fast track to support small and medium-sized enterprises, airport reconstruction, solid waste management, and budget support to strengthen public financial management and to maintain a new line of defense against future catastrophes.
Emergency repairs have produced important results: recently, the roof of the Sint Maarten Hospital was repaired and upgraded to withstand a major storm. Repairs were also completed at the Philipsburg and Simpson Bay police stations. In the community of Belvedere, more than 100 homes for low income families were repaired by the Sint Maarten Housing Development Foundation benefitting some 500 people who needed it most.
The focus is on protecting the most vulnerable, who were hit the hardest by the storm. The World Bank is working with the government through the income support and training program. Over 900 people who lost their jobs after the hurricane are receiving income support, training, and certifications to sharpen their skills and get back into the job market. The program currently benefits about one in four unemployed persons in the country and will double the number of beneficiaries by the end of 2020.
With the support of the Trust Fund, Sint Maarten is now better prepared financially to face future storms with insurance coverage against tropical cyclones, earthquakes, and excess rainfall as a member of the regional Caribbean Catastrophe Risk Insurance Facility (CCRIF), which was developed under the technical leadership of the World Bank.
As we move from recovery to a longer-term development agenda, our focus is now on helping the people of Sint Maarten build back better, with more resilience, and to develop tailored solutions to get the best value for the funds invested. That means ensuring that tax payers’ money is well spent and contributes to the sustainable development of Sint Maarten.
Building back better means rebuilding infrastructure that can resist future storms. We are working with the Sint Maarten Medical Center and the Ministry of Health and Social Services to expand medical services on the island and build a new hospital resistant to a category 5 plus hurricane.
We share the impatience of the people of Sint Maarten and agree that much more needs to be done to accelerate reconstruction efforts. Together with the government of Sint Maarten, the World Bank is engaging with other partners to deliver more quickly and closer to the ground.
A key government concern has been to ensure that recipients meet social eligibility criteria. For example, we are undertaking door to door social assessments to determine eligibility for private home repairs. A first total of 135 households will start to benefit from these repairs.
More generally, building resilience is a long-term challenge which needs to engage all partners, including the private sector and civil society.
We are working with the government of Sint Maarten, the Netherlands, the European Investment Bank and other stakeholders to support the rehabilitation of the airport, to fully reopen the island’s tourism lifeline and strengthen the airport’s competitiveness. To restore the confidence of private investors, the government has appointed a task force to strengthen the capacity and management of the airport and its corporate oversight, following recommendations by the World Bank. The construction of the passenger terminal is currently expected to start in the fall of 2019.
The World Bank brings over 70 years of global experience in reconstruction and development, maintaining high standards of financial management and social and environmental safeguards. At the same time, we are keeping an ambitious time-line, so we can help produce results on the ground as soon as possible. By complementing the efforts made by the people of Sint Maarten we can accelerate the reconstruction and ensure a brighter future to all its citizens.